Nine Things Slowing The Flash Down

7) The “D” Word

The Flash’s success with diversity is hard to define. A Black family is the heart of the show, and the white hero reiterates that he wouldn’t be who he is without them. A Black woman is the romantic heroine, subverting the “strong, independent Black woman” stereotype. A Latinx is a superhero tech genius instead of a “spicy Latin lover.” A woman heads the STEM department, a profession primarily made up of men. Yet it’s painfully obvious that The Flash is dominated by a white male POV and needs more diversity in the writers room, to add authenticity and to prevent offensive storylines.

There’s no need to have Iris face workplace discrimination or Wally be pulled over by cops, but that doesn’t mean that race can’t be explored. Grandma Esther wouldn’t make noodles for her family, as Candice Patton recently pointed out,  but she might’ve made pork chops or fried chicken. Black writers have already helped cultivate some color, such as when Wally referred to the Koolaid man in “King Shark,” though not often. Cisco’s Latinx heritage is only obvious because Carlos Valdes is brown and sometimes ad-libs his lines, since The Flash misses opportunities to explore his potential connection to religion or affinity for Vicks VapoRub as a cure-all. These details could enrich the characters’ stories, instead of turning them into diversity tokens with no writers of color to back them up.

But perhaps the most crucial reason for having writers of colour is preventing potentially offensive storylines like Iris’ mother being a drug-addict who abandoned her child while Caitlin’s got to be a successful scientist, or Caitlin’s classist-sounding “bootstraps” speech to Jax, or even Black Bison being villainized while Ralph the White Savior reclaims her people’s stolen artifacts. One of the biggest culprits was “The Wrath of Savitar,” when Barry angrily kicks Wally off the team for hiding his visions of Savitar, but coddles Caitlin after she selfishly keeps part of the Philosopher’s stone to cure her powers. The unfortunate implications of the white woman being instantly forgiven for a duplicity which endangered a Black woman’s life undermined the positive implications of that Black woman’s life being prioritised in the first place.

Ralph Dibny has also revealed some gender-related issues. His unpopularity partially stems from his repetitive storylines sidelining other characters, but it was exacerbated by his casual sexism. The writers likely wanted him to overcome these flaws, but misogyny isn’t a “flaw,” it’s part of rape culture – and more female writers might have pointed this out. Now that Andrew J. Kreisberg is out of the writers’ room, we have high hopes that women’s voices will carry more weight.

Of course, not every character conflict is about race or gender. But the fact of the matter is that without diversity behind the scenes, the diversity onscreen is of the paint-by-numbers variety that actively harms its authenticity. The Flash has women and people of colour that inspire viewers – and if it wants credit for diversity, it must do the work offscreen.
– Ivy

8) I’m a Motherf@!#ing Woman, Baby

The meager development of female relationships on The Flash is far from the only problem plaguing its ladies. One of the most frustrating things about our beloved show is how much women’s stories tie back to men, so much so that even female villains can’t be unapologetically evil unless a man made them that way.

The first three seasons left much to be desired when it came to Bad Girls. In the handful of instances where a female villain appeared at all, either she was consumed by an even worse man (Plastique was only lashing out after Eiling’s torture, Peekaboo only wanted to break out her loser boyfriend, Doctor Light was running from Zoom…) or she literally couldn’t control herself (Trajectory’s addiction to Velocity 9, Magenta’s Dissociative Identity Disorder, Killer Frost’s… everything).

Thankfully, season 4 has been an improvement when it comes to representing more women in various roles onscreen. Iris has a positive mother figure in Cecile, Marlize is one of the show’s most dynamic villains yet, and we’ve had three memorable female metas with no man pulling their strings – unless you count The Thinker pulling everyone’s. But when we dig a little deeper, we see some of the same issues cropping up. Amunet’s motivations are non-existent until she offers up an uncomfortable story about sexual harassment, which victimizes her at the hands of Bad Men. Worse, Marlize was positioned as her husband’s equal yet his vision was her driving force, and he has since turned her into another one of his playthings. Imagine switching the roles so that it was her vision that Clifford executed until she swallowed him whole. Can you even visualize The Flash doing that? We sure can’t.

Of course, it’s not just the villains who suffer from the show’s male-centric perspective. The “Girls Night Out” episode prided itself on sending the boys away so that Iris and Caitlin could save the day alone, but the exception did nothing more than prove the rule. You shouldn’t have to eliminate men to allow women to flourish. Again, A and B plots could solve many problems, allowing a female-led story to sneak into the B plot while Barry takes charge of the A plot. There are also plenty of minor interactions that would flesh out our girls on their own: Iris could use Caitlin’s scientific expertise on a story, Cecile could ask Iris to do some research for a case, and Cynthia could speak words to someone who isn’t Cisco.

Perhaps Karyn Forge-Smith as SVP will lead to the hiring of more female writers and directors, especially of color, who will pave the way for The Flash women to enjoy more independent storylines. In the wise words of Kesha: these ladies don’t need a man to be holding them too tight.
– Tatiana

9. Reveal Shit Faster Please

Audiences love a good mystery and a shocking plot twist. What we don’t love is when it’s dragged out so much that we figure it out long before the show divulges it. Ever since the dramatic reveal of Harrison Wells as Reverse Flash in Season 1, the show has tried to capitalize on shock value to increasingly diminishing effect. The worst attempt has to be Season 3’s “Barry is Savitar” reveal, which didn’t occur until episode 20, even though most of the fandom had the entire mystery figured out by episode 15. Another downside to revealing Savitar so late was that his backstory and motivation were compressed into one season finale episode. If writers had employed a little dramatic irony earlier, there would be no need to pad the season with filler that has no lasting impact on the main plot, dragging the story down rather than speeding it towards its climax. Instead, we could have delved into Savitar’s psyche a bit more while still building urgency and tension towards his inevitable clash with Barry and Iris on Infantino Street.

The fourth season promised a fresh take on villains by introducing the Thinker and Mechanic early. We saw them pulling the strings behind the bus metas’ creation and subsequent clashes with Team Flash. However, 13 episodes into the season and we’re still no closer to knowing what the Thinker’s endgame actually is, how it works, or why Barry and the bus metas are needed to pull it off. This leads to another issue with drawn-out reveals: the audience loses interest in the mystery altogether.

You can only keep the audience guessing so long before you lose the impact of the reveal. The mystery girl that was way too excited to see Barry and Iris get married in this year’s Arrowverse crossover initially generated a lot of buzz and debate about whether she was Westallen’s daughter, Dawn Allen, or their granddaughter Jenni Ognats. However, we’ve only seen her once more since then with barely any clues on how she connects to the plot and no guesses as to when she will be “revealed.” Jessica Parker Kennedy’s own portrayal makes me confident that she is Dawn, but waiting for confirmation is becoming increasingly exhausting the longer they draw it out.

The Flash is great at creating mysteries that capture our attention, but it needs to fix its pacing issues so it doesn’t lose steam. Tighter mini-arcs that connect to a season-long storyline is one way to keep the audience invested without the drag. The audience is smarter than the writers give them credit for; rather than giving us one mystery spread out over 20 episodes, reward us with a new crucial piece of the puzzle every so often. For example, even if the plan is to save Dawn’s reveal towards the end of the season to set up a Season 5 arc, it would help if we caught glimpses of her in Central City throughout the season that reveal more of her connection to her parents so that the mystery is less “who is she” and more “when will Westallen meet their daughter?” Revealing one mystery doesn’t mean you can’t weave in another. That’s how you keep an audience engaged.
– Jessica

At the end of the day, we love The Flash as much as Westallen love each other, so we want it to be the most amazing show to come running home to every Tuesday.

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